By Binod Shankar, Special to Gulf News
Bangkok: Think Thailand these days and immediately the images are of protests and closed airports. Incredibly, despite adverse current events, it remains a great place to buy property.
Overall demand for new condominium projects in central Bangkok slowed in the first half of this year, mainly due to political turmoil and rising oil prices. The number of completed projects also dropped. Despite this, a few luxury projects (Sukhothai Residences, Royce Private Residences) were launched at record high prices. Most of the new condo projects are in the Sukhumvit Road area. Average selling prices for off-plan property continued to rise by 5 per cent, lower than previous periods. The yields are attractive and a typical 1,200 square foot Bangkok apartment yields approximately 7.8 per cent and smaller (500 square foot) units generate higher yields of up to 10.26 per cent.
Thailand's house prices peaked in 1992, and current prices are still 10 per cent below the 1992 level. Thailand's house price index quickly recovered after the Asian crisis and rose 53.8 per cent from 1999 to 2006. Prices of new downtown condominiums have risen by an average of 10 per cent annually since 2003.
The causes for this price growth are clear. With well-developed infrastructure, a free-enterprise economy, and generally pro-investment policies and boosted by strong export growth, the Thai economy grew 4.5 per cent last year. Blessed with warm and friendly people, tropical climate, stunning beaches, lush forests, exotic nightlife and high-end leisure activities (water sports and golf being two), tourism has always been a mainstay with about 14 million visiting Thailand last year and traffic rising at 20 per cent yearly. The favourable exchange rates between Western currencies and the Thai baht make this country very appealing to holidaymakers, expats, retirees and investors. Another plus is that the cost of living is quite low by Western standards. In line with tourism growth, the "buy-to-let" market in Thailand is attractive as it means a higher occupancy rate all year round because of the need for more short-term accommodation for tourists.
Condos in Bangkok range from super luxury (Dh1,726 per square feet) to entry level (below Dh575 per square foot). As can be seen, another driver is that on prime residential prices Bangkok is much cheaper than the major cities in Hong Kong (Dh5,475 per square foot), India (Dh3,898 per square foot), Singapore (Dh3,657 per square foot) and China (Dh920 per square foot). On an absolute basis, a 560 square foot one bed condo in Ratchada sells for Dh243,000, a 732 square foot two bed unit in Sukhumvit sells for Dh805,000 and a 1,635 square foot three bed in Chidlom sells for Dh1.5 million. The sizes are smaller compared to Dubai units, but prices are very competitive by Dubai standards.
The government also recently slashed property title transfer fees, mortgage registration fees and taxes to boost the property market.
Foreigners can own condos as long as the percentage of units sold to foreigners does not exceed 49 per cent. However, a foreigner can buy a whole building, minus the land on which it is built. Another option is to set up a company with Thai (51 per cent) and foreign (49 per cent) ownership. Companies can own land and the foreigner can control the company by using a legal power of attorney from the Thai shareholders. This is an effective and time-tested route, most commonly taken by foreigners - but the help of a lawyer is very important. One reason for this is that the realty industry in the country is still unregulated, so a lawyer will be able to provide better security.
Titles are problematic in Thailand. The best landed property titles are chanott ti din: title deeds with land accurately surveyed, giving incontestable possession of the land. The most developed areas have such titles.
Local banks do not provide loans to foreigners and taxes are high. Non-residents pay tax on rental income rates from 10 per cent to 37 per cent. Property tax is levied on rental properties and is payable annually at a flat rate of 12.5 per cent of the assessed annual rental value of the property. Capital gains are taxed at standard income tax rates.
Buying costs are low. After the recent tax cuts, total all-in costs are now at around 4.8 per cent to 7.1 per cent of the property value.
The writer is a chartered accountant and property analyst. This article does not constitute investment advice and potential buyers are advised to conduct their own upfront due diligence.